Post-9/11, Wall Street Goes From Rubble to Renaissance
A city is said to be defined by its highest building, and before Sept. 11, 2001, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center marked New York's Lower Manhattan as a financial capital, a place to earn a living, the center of commerce.
Yet the destruction of the towers and the surrounding area from the 9/11 terror attacks left lower Manhattan nearly destroyed, and many people wondering if it could ever recover.
It has, residents and local officials say, in ways never imagined. Though One World Trade Center—the replacement to the Twin Towers—is not expected to be finished until late 2013, Lower Manhattan has not only returned as a financial capital, it is also the fastest-growing neighborhood on the island by population, residential real estate, and commercial activity.
“The whole area came to a standstill [after the attacks]. There was an eerie silence, and a lot of people lost the spring in their step," said Brian Goldstein, director of operations of New York’s division of the Small Business Administration. "But now, when I walk down those same streets, it's all open. They are seeing a resurgence down there. The hotels are all packed, Wall Street is back, and tourism is flourishing.”
This resurgence was a collective effort—heavily subsidized with billions of dollars from federal, state, city, and private sources. While the total amount poured into the southern tip of Manhattan is unknown, we do know that the result is a booming local economy, with a luxury living price tag.
The population of Lower Manhattan, which includes the financial district, has grown over 97 percent in the last 10 years, according to 2010 Census data. This phenomenon is, in large part, a result of state subsidies.
Regulation 421A is a post-9/11 tax credit designed to support residential real estate after thousands were dislocated. The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Financerequire recipient landowners to refuse corporate lease contracts and take individual residents only. Since then, housing units have doubled and new residents have gone from 24,000 to 56,000, says the state-run Downtown Alliance.
President of New York Economic Development Corp. Seth Pinsky attributes this growth to actions taken by city government.
“The city created the amenities which attracted residential investment—the transportation and the parks," said Pinsky. "Before, it was exclusively a business district. On weekends and after hours, it rolled up the carpets and shut down. Now new residents drive demand for a wide variety of industries—not just financial services.”
Most of the financial-services firms that called Wall Street home have returned in one way or another.
Though the offices of Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, and , now a unit of Bank of America were either damaged or completely destroyed in the attacks, these banks, among others, have rebuilt their headquarters or maintain a large
They returned to a greener, and more accessible place—thanks to the city's Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC). Created in the aftermath of 9/11 by then-Governor George Pataki and then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, one of the LMDC's first actions was to allocate $46 million for city public parks projects.
“I’ve worked in city government for 30 years, and I’d never seen this amount of cooperation between city agencies. We said we’re going to bring back Manhattan bigger and better than ever,” said Adrian Benepe, who as commissioner of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, works with the LMDC.
The new parks of Wall Street, South Street, and Battery Park attract both New Yorkers and tourists to the area, thanks to improvements in public transportation. These include the Fulton Street Transit Center linking nine subway lines, a new PATH trainstation providing access to New Jersey, and a new ferry serviceconnecting Lower Manhattan with waterfronts in Brooklyn and Queens.
Other newcomers to the financial district are luxury hotels—Downtown and 20 Pine—and retail chains Hermès and Tiffany. These developments are not only attracting residents, but also more tourists. According to the city's Downtown Alliance, tourism has increased by nearly 30 percent since 2008.
Disappointment and Acrimony
Amid all this progress, success, and improvement, the fact that One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower, will not be complete 10 years after the attacks remains a sore spot for many New Yorkers and Americans. Disagreements over financing, design, and security held up the project for years, and the first piece of steel was not laid until December 2006.
The Port Authority, a state agency, is coordinating the reconstruction of One World Trade. When finished, the skyscraper will anchor the neighborhood—as did its predecessors—and complement all the other additions.
"It's one of the most complicated engineering projects in the history of New York because there are so many different uses that intersect at that site. An office center, one-million-square-feet of retail, and a memorial will cover several acres. It's also a transportation hub," said Pinsky of the New York Economic Development Corp.